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Villarreal routs Real Betis, moves near the top in Spain

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MADRID (AP) Villarreal routed Real Betis 5-1 on Friday for its third win in four matches, moving it near the top of the Spanish league.

[ MORE: La Liga scores, schedule ]

Karl Toko Ekambi scored twice and Santi Cazorla, Gerard Moreno and Samuel Chukwueze added a goal each to give Villarreal the comfortable victory at home. Emerson scored for Real Betis at the Ceramica Stadium.

The victory moved Villarreal to fifth place with 11 points. It is three points behind leader Real Madrid, which on Saturday visits crosstown rival Atletico Madrid.

Villarreal’s only setback in the last four rounds was a 2-1 loss to two-time defending champion Barcelona at Camp Nou Stadium on Tuesday.

Real Betis, which was unbeaten in its last four matches, stayed ninth in the 20-team table, with eight points.

Barcelona, without the injured Lionel Messi, visits Getafe on Saturday.

More AP soccer: https://apnews.com/apf-Soccer and https://twitter.com/AP-Sports

La Liga Roundup: Bale scores brace, salvages draw for Real Madrid

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Gareth Bale and Joao Felix headline Sunday’s La Liga action.

[ MORE: Atletico’s Felix scores first La Liga goal ]

Villarreal 2-2 Real Madrid

Just a couple of months ago, Zinedine Zidane made it clear it’d be “best for everyone” for Gareth Bale to leave Real Madrid amid a reported lucrative move to China. On Sunday, Spain’s most dramatized transfer saga this summer didn’t matter, as the Welshman showcased glimpses of former glory with his two-goal performance against Villarreal, securing a vital point for Los Merengues. 

Bale opened his account with the final touch of the first half, slotting in a delicate pass from Dani Carvajal into the net. His second goal, though, rolled back the years. Inside the box, with the ball tightly tucked on his preferred left foot, the Welshman’s perfectly-placed ball was impossible for Andres Fernandez to save.

The night wasn’t perfect for Bale, however.

Right before the final whistle, the 30-year-old was sent off after seeing his second yellow card of the night.

Of course, Bale coming to rescue wouldn’t be a talking point unless the hosts had done their fair share of work, which they did. In the 74th minute, Moi Gomez had all but sealed the game for El Submarino Amarillo. 12 minutes in, Gerard Moreno tallied his third of the season in just as many games.

Without Bale, Real Madrid host Levante next, while Villarreal look to secure their first win of the season against the league’s bottom-dwellers, Leganes.

Atletico Madrid 3-2 Eibar 

Joao Felix did open his La Liga account, but Atletico’s big moment came in the final stages of the match, when Thomas Party’s determined run into the box resulted in a last-second, game-winning goal for the home side.

Diego Simeone’s side are now La Liga’s clear-cut leaders, winning three straight games to start the season.

Eibar started off strong, finishing two of the three chances they created in the first half. But as the clocked ticked, the visitors lost their effectiveness, despite it being a quiet night for Los Colchoneros in terms of generating a plethora of looks at goal.

Like Felix and Partey, Vitolo contributed his second goal of the season, leveling the score in the 52nd minute. Renan Lodi and Diego Costa assisted on Sunday.

The league leaders will look to continue their applaudable run of form as they travel to San Sebastian to take on Real Sociedad, following the conclusion of the international break. Eibar, on the other hand, host an equally-struggling Espanyol.

Elsewhere in La Liga

Valencia 2-0 RCD Mallorca

Espanyol 0-3 Granada

West Ham sign Spanish midfielder on reported $30M fee

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West Ham United have given Manuel Pellegrini another weapon in attack, snaring Pablo Fornals from Villarreal for a reported $30 million.

That fee is only trumped in West Ham history by last season’s purchase of Felipe Anderson from Lazio. That moved turned out pretty well, to the tune of 10 goals and five assists.

[ MORE: U.S. falls in FIFA rankings ]

Fornals is twice-capped by Spain and 23 years old. He posted five goals and six assists from attacking midfield last season, two years after he moved from Malaga. His first season saw him tie for La Liga’s lead in assists with Luis Suarez and Lionel Messi with 12.

West Ham had serious problems in the midfield last year, though most were injury-related with Manuel Lanzini and Jack Wilshere among the men missing plenty of minutes.

And Sky Sports has quotes from director of football Mario Husillos, who knows Fornals well:

“I personally have followed his career since he was a youth player with me at Malaga, and I know we have signed an incredible professional and an incredible character.

“To represent Spain as a full international at the age of 20, and then to have made over 150 appearances in La Liga by the age of 23, is a sign of great quality and character. He joins us a young player still with many years ahead of him, yet with strong experience and already proven at the very highest level.”

If he recaptures his magic from a season ago, the move could well take the Irons attack into the next level.

Transfer rumor roundup: Chukwuese to Liverpool, Gomes to West Ham

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As fallout begins from Barcelona’s losses in the UEFA Champions League semifinals and Copa del Rey Final, players are being linked with moves away from the Camp Nou.

Andre Gomes, 25, already spent a year away from Barca, playing around 2000 minutes on loan to Everton this season.

[ MORE: USWNT wins final World Cup tune-up ]

The Times says that Everton would like to keep the player, but West Ham has made a $22 million bid for the EURO 2016 winner.

Meanwhile, Metro says that Xherdan Shaqiri could be one-and-done at Liverpool, making room for another Reds’ buy.

Samuel Chukwuese is the name, and the 20-year-old Nigerian plies his trade at Villarreal.

The Yellow Submarine flirted with relegation this season, taxed by the Europa League, and Chukwuese was a bright spot. He scored seven goals and added three assists in 38 matches across all competitions.

Europa League Preview: Chelsea, Arsenal take next steps

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The Europa League quarterfinals begin Thursday, with Arsenal home to Napoli in the most tantalizing of four solid match-ups.

[ MORE: UCL summations for each quarterfinalist ]

All of the first legs kick off at 3 p.m. ET


Arsenal v. Napoli

Alexandre Lacazette says the match-up with Serie A’s serial runners-up is a toss-up.

“Napoli has a big history like us. Now they are second in the table after Juventus and making a big difference with other important teams. They are playing very well. They have come from the Champions League but from a strong group with Liverpool. They were very competitive in this group. I know it’s going to be very difficult for us but we have confidence.”

Benfica v. Eintracht Frankfurt

If any of these match-ups are a true toss-up, it’s this one. And it comes right down to table standing, relative to league. Benfica is in a dogfight for first on the Portuguese table, while Eintracht Frankfurt is scrapping to stay in the Bundesliga’s Top Four.

Eintracht and Benfica both have brilliant attacks (and imagine if Benfica hadn’t loaned Raul Jimenez to Wolves). This one could be as good as it gets in the UEL.

Villarreal v. Valencia

Two sides who’ve met each other often and also both had success in Europe square off for a semifinal spot. Villarreal remains in a La Liga relegation place and this game comes three days before a six-pointer against Girona, while Valencia has a placement fight on its hands, too (albeit to re-qualify for the Europa League).

Slavia Prague v. Chelsea

Maurizio Sarri is not going to be sleeping on his Czech opponents, especially just three rounds from a Champions League place.

“They are very dangerous,” Sarri said. “They scored six goals in two matches against Sevilla. We need to be very compact and to defend very well. Especially on crosses they attack the box with five or six players, and they are dangerous on counter-attacks. It won’t be easy for us.”